Columns » Max Brantley

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This assertion included no supporting quantitative analysis, though it's obviously true that many reviewers were bored. Dan Rather of CBS had good things to say about the book, however. Larry McMurtry raved about it in The New York Times - "by a generous measure, the richest American presidential autobiography," wrote the author of "Lonesome Dove." A leading correspondent for Time liked it. Even Newsweek, which used one of Kenneth Starr's interlocutors to write a major piece on the book, had some good things to say about it. It is still true that the book was late to arrive, windy and undisciplined - yet undeniably engaging at times. Pure Clinton, in other words. I read slowly and go to sleep early. So my own progress was slow. But I found a lot to like in the near-endless political anecdotes. Also, unlike some big city reviewers, I cheer Clinton's decision to pile on Kenneth Starr, the persecutorial Javert who, in the end, saved a presidency he wanted to destroy. Starr's prurient, lip-smacking report on the president's affair with a young intern awoke the country to his mad vendetta. I view Starr from the outside. He harassed none of my family. He cost me not a cent in attorney fees. So I have no vested interest when I say Starr is a dishonest man who hid behind a calculated, and sanctimonious, veneer of piety. He was a political weapon, not a foot soldier for justice. He wantonly destroyed lives. He leaked to reporters who would parrot his viewpoint. He would not talk at all to the others. He used reporters as investigative instruments. His tenure was a black mark on our system, a black mark on the media. But I mentioned anecdotes. I particularly enjoyed Clinton's retelling of the minutiae of his comeback victory over Frank White in the 1982 governor's race. The black vote was critical, as always. Clinton recalled (and you can just see the grin on his face as he retells it) Emily Bowens, mayor of the poor Delta community of Mitchellville. He'd helped her in his first term and she paid him back. The town went 196-8 for him in his 1982 primary runoff with Joe Purcell. When Clinton called to thank her, she apologized, telling Clinton, "Governor, I'll find those eight people and straighten them out by November." Boy, did she. In the general election, Clinton says he carried Mitchellville 256-0. Anecdotes can be teaching tools. This one, and others in the book, help explain Clinton's success with black voters. Genuine color-blindness is the key factor. But there's more to learn. Black people are not mindless Democratic sheep, as Republican critics often suppose. They vote their interests, just as white, green, purple and blue voters do. I'd just as soon that those Republicans who rail about bloc voting and who intimidate black voters not read this book. Let them dismiss it as boring and move on. Otherwise, they might get a clue about serving the interests of minorities and poor people.

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